|Ken Novak's Weblog
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Monday, October 04, 2004
How the White House Embraced Disputed Arms Intelligence
: Long chilling story of the manipulation of intelligence to support the war preference of Bush and Cheney. "In 2002, at a crucial juncture on the path to war, senior members of the Bush administration gave a series of speeches and interviews in which they asserted that Saddam Hussein was rebuilding his nuclear weapons program. Speaking to a group of Wyoming Republicans in September, Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States now had "irrefutable evidence" - thousands of tubes made of high-strength aluminum, tubes that the Bush administration said were destined for clandestine Iraqi uranium centrifuges, before some were seized at the behest of the United States.
Those tubes became a critical exhibit in the administration's brief against Iraq. As the only physical evidence the United States could brandish of Mr. Hussein's revived nuclear ambitions, they gave credibility to the apocalyptic imagery invoked by President Bush and his advisers. The tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, explained on CNN on Sept. 8, 2002. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
But almost a year before, Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons, according to four officials at the Central Intelligence Agency and two senior administration officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. The experts, at the Energy Department, believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets.
The White House, though, embraced the disputed theory that the tubes were for nuclear centrifuges, an idea first championed in April 2001 by a junior analyst at the C.I.A. Senior nuclear scientists considered that notion implausible, yet in the months after 9/11, as the administration built a case for confronting Iraq, the centrifuge theory gained currency as it rose to the top of the government." 11:55:56 PM
US arms exports poorly controlled, 'blowback' feared: "The United States is failing to safeguard much of the highly sought weaponry it sends abroad - from assault rifles to sophisticated combat technology, a review by The Denver Post concludes. Lax oversight of weapons exports opens the door for adversaries to get their hands on lethal missiles, assault guns and components for larger weapons systems, sources say.
Homeland Security agents recently have uncovered plots to divert night-vision lenses to Iran, fighter-jet parts to China, grenade launchers to Colombian guerrillas, nuclear triggers to Pakistan, and more. And despite internal warnings, government-sanctioned sales worth more than $10 billion a year continue spreading more weapons worldwide. Congressional leaders [incl Sen. Feinstein] are promising legislation. ..
Homeland Security agents investigating illegal dealing say sophisticated weaponry probably already has reached adversaries. Total arrests for illegal arms dealing doubled from 62 in 2002 to 125 last year. Customs agents last year made 665 seizures of arms worth $106 million. ..
Overall, State and Defense department regulators last year approved more than 49,500 deals involving all types of weapons without full review - let alone monitoring and inspection abroad, documents show. Arms deals are screened by staffers who process electronic applications but generally lack time and expertise to conduct detailed investigations of buyers and sellers. Even in cases where an application is flagged for closer scrutiny, the most detailed reviews seldom involve inspections.
Last year, State Department officials charged with overseeing private-company deals selected 413 for more careful review, though still not inspections to verify where weapons are and how they are used.These targeted reviews found irregularities with 76, or 18.4 percent, of those deals. That's the highest percentage ever, up from 11 percent, or 50, of the deals reviewed in 2002, State Department documents said. The 413 reviews interrupted a plan to move firearms to a criminal in Central America, sales of helicopter parts to a hostile country, and misuse of electronics and communications equipment sent to Asia, records show. Details were omitted. State Department supervisors said 32 inspectors - including contract employees - must process applications for some 50,000 commercial arms deals each year." 11:32:42 PM
Rumsfeld: No evidence of al-Qaida-Iraq link -- then, oops: "Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday that he knew of no “strong, hard evidence” linking Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and al-Qaida, despite describing extensive contacts between the two before the invasion of Iraq. During a question-and-answer session before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Rumsfeld was asked to explain the connection between Saddam and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network, which is blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. .. “To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two. I just read an intelligence report recently about one person who’s connected to al-Qaida who was in and out of Iraq. And it is the most tortured description of why he might have had a relationship and why he might not have had a relationship. It may have been something that was not representative of a hard linkage.” ..
Before the war, U.S. officials spoke of Iraq’s already possessing weapons of mass destruction, not a potential for gathering them. “It turns out that we have not found weapons of mass destruction,” Rumsfeld said." More quotes on Electablog. But, after this appearance, he issued a statement from the Pentagon: "I have acknowledged since September 2002 that there were ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq. This assessment was based upon points provided to me by then CIA Director George Tenet to describe the CIA's understanding of the Al Qaeda-Iraq relationship." Mostly non-denial. See also Steve Clemons. 10:38:00 PM
A vision for silicon solar cells: Projections based on current technology and experience curves. Projects decline from about $3 today, to $1.44/w cell price in 2013, and $0.65 in 2023. (Corresponds to my rough projections.) The author also costs out a government program that would offer buyers grid-competitive prices from now forward until costs declined. That subsidy would be 50% of costs today, declining to zero by 2012. The total cost of this subsidy program in the US would be $23B from 2003-2012. 5:42:23 PM
PV Concentrator systems: Survey of technical issues and current players. Conclusions (and an interesting point on policy): "Concentrators have great potential to become the lowest-cost photovoltaic option, producing power in the 7-15 cents/kWh range, depending on system size and location. Concentrator companies should not try to imitate today's flat-plate applications. The most natural markets are for medium-sized systems for grid-support, green power, and portfolio standards, or remove PV±diesel hybrid applications. .. Clearly, any economical application must be either remote, non-grid-connected or dispersed and located near retail grid customers.
One promising application is utility end-of-line grid support in remote regions that are experiencing rapid growth. PV is particularly valuable in this application when the region load is driven by air conditioning so that the demand and resource are well matched. This application requires the participation of utility companies as well as Federal support. Another potential application is remote power systems that are now being served by larger diesel generators. Typical installations are island power systems, large water pumping stations, remote military bases, resorts, and the like. By adding PV to these installations, diesel fuel is saved and engine operating time is reduced. Concentrator PV should be cost- effective in these applications within the very near future. ..
Projected electricity costs from concentrator power plants are about three times the current cost of energy from natural gas power plants. Early concentrator plants will be twice as expensive again. There is nothing that can be done about this without government involvement, period. We need to decide as a society if environmental issues such as acid rain, global warming, and reduced health are important enough to subsidize this difference for a while. Factors of three can't be that big a deal in the broader picture. After all, the price of electricity varies by over a factor of three at various locals in the US. The high costs in the more expensive locals is often a legacy of stranded nuclear power plants, another government program that wasn't entirely successful. The low-cost locals benefit from low-cost hydropower, a government program that was successful." 5:30:15 PM
Compact refrigeration technology
: "Twinbird Corporation are in the final stage of the development work on the Free Piston Stirling Cooler "FPSC-TB40" and expects to have market ready products in Fiscal Year 2003. The TB40 has significant differences to the conventional Rankine compressor or Peltier (thermoelectric) module type refrigeration systems. It is a new type of refrigeration system that uses neither ozone depleting nor global warming gas and no lubrication oil. The cooling technique is based on the Stirling cycle for maximum efficiency. Aside from being environmentally friendly, the unit is also compact, light weight and may be operated on many different power sources such as AC or DC electricity and photovoltaics." Could prove very useful in developing country or off-grid conditions with variable DC power (e.g., solar cells). 4:58:08 PM
OECD Report Calls for Policy Changes to Promote Biomass: "Plants and animal waste could become viable alternatives to fossil fuels in providing energy and materials if governments changed strategies, according to a new OECD report out today. Instead of offering financial incentives or subsidies to stimulate the use of such organic material, known as “biomass”, governments should encourage technical innovation as a way of narrowing the price gap with oil and gas products. ..
According to the report, long-term strategies should be developed that recognise the potential of local resources and encourage the establishment of bio-refineries to recycle a range of farm by-products in addition to using grains, oilseeds and sugar. Such complexes would be capable of producing both energy and materials derived not only from annual crops but also grass, short rotation trees, cereal straws and other by-products. ..
The report also reveals that:
The prices of some niche market bioproducts such as plastics derived from arable crops are already competitive with certain petroleum-based plastics. The car industry, for example, is making increasing use of bioplastics.
Around 7% of heat generation and 1% of total electricity in OECD countries is provided by agricultural bioenergy. In developing countries an estimated 25% of total energy demand is met by biomass, principally in the form of firewood and animal dung.
Because bioethanol, produced from sugar and grains, can be used in existing engines with little modification, it is easier to exploit than other alternative transportation fuels such as hydrogen."